Learn an innovative sound check method that makes musicians happy at 7am!
Efficient sound check method
A while ago I played at a festival where the most eventful memory of the whole day was the sound check! Not that the event wasn’t good, its just the sound check was the best organised, well thought out and most efficient one I’ve ever been to despite taking place at 7am! (Quite frankly for any musician there should be only one 7 o clock time per day and it shouldn’t be before lunch!)
Many sound checks can be time consuming, but the way this early morning check was organised meant that some of the unnecessary stages were cut out leaving much more time for rehearsing.
Most sound checks have three stages. Firstly each instrument is line checked. If you’re not familiar with the terminology this means that once the instrument is set up and mic’d or DI’d the sound engineer briefly checks that a level is coming through the PA and makes basic EQ adjustments to the amplified tone.
Once everything is line checked the engineer would generally ask each band member what other instruments they would like in their monitor and crucially at what volume. This is normally done by getting each instrument to play individually and then every musician says how much of it they want in their mix. And here lies the problem…. you have no overall volume level reference of where each instrument needs to sit in your mix until the whole band starts playing together. Once they start and you add in acoustic stage volume, everything changes. It’s then very difficult to communicate back to the desk what’s too loud or soft whilst you are trying to play. When you have stopped you try and remember your list of what was too loud or soft. Adjustments are made and the band plays again but because everyone else’s levels have changed, the mix you hear onstage is different and you need to tweak your monitor again, but you can’t because it’s very difficult to attract the soundman’s attention whilst playing…
The other outcome can be that volumes keep rising as everyone asks for a little bit more – especially when the congregation begins to sing.
The 7am alternative goes like this
Have one person leading the sound check from the stage and liaising with the desk. This could be a second sound man or musician.
Line check instruments in this order: vocals, then instruments and most importantly, drums last.
Once the drum levels are established get the drummer to drop into a straight simple groove at the volume he is likely to play for a loud song. As he is playing get the sound check leader to stand at each instruments’ wedge and relay to the desk what elements of the kit each member would like in their monitor one member at a time. Don’t stop playing!
When each member has a drum mix, get the bass guitar to add a one note groove as a layer on top of the drums. Repeat the same monitoring procedure with each member until they have enough bass in their mix and then check all other instruments in the same way. After this the best order is probably rhythm instruments first such as acoustic guitar, then textual sounds like keyboard pads and electric guitar chords followed by single melody instruments such as flutes. Think of it as adding layers to the same one chord groove. Don’t change the groove! It’s probably worth leaving any instrument that doesn’t have its own amplifier such as strings till this point too.
Lastly, bring in lead vocals and then backing vocals. Don’t do the BVs first as they need the lead vocal level to know where their own volume sits in context.
When we soundchecked this way we found it not only saved time but also yielded a better and more detailed mix much sooner.
The key sound checking rules are:
Have a second sound person or musical director with a microphone communicating mix requests to the sound desks
Go straight from line check into building a layered groove.
Start with drums, then rhythm, textural, lead, un-amplified instruments followed by lead and backing vocals.
Keep playing the same simple groove at consistent volume.
When the band does stop playing, resist the temptation to twiddle!
Try it this way. If it takes a while first go don’t worry, as you do it more you’ll speed up and leave much more time for rehearsing.
What do you think of this approach? How do you sound check? Any tips for others to learn from?